When I first looked at the Mars Volta's newest release, Amputechture
, I noticed the artwork. It was nothing overdone or showy, and yet it was effective in portraying a message; it was a message of unhappiness. When looking at all of the men pictured on the front and back of the lyric booklet had such stale faces, it shows that expression. The faces were quite boring with a puzzling look. Was this perhaps a preface into Amputecture? As the songs unfolded before me, it became clear that this was no coincidence that the people holding what appeared to be "amputechture," to the Mars Volta, were not happy with what they were holding. I firmly agree.
The first quip is the repetitive, cyclical nature of certain Mars Volta songs. I felt that there was little progress made between the first six and the last minute of “Tetragammaton.” After the initial break, there is another after a verse and chorus section. Another example comes with “Viscera Eyes,” where the instruments decided to put their work on repeat during the verse while the chorus follows suite. After more than five minutes of repetition, there is a miraculous change. The bass takes over and there is a new section of music, but then that bass riff is repeated for four minutes. It soon becomes as dull as the initial portion of the song. However, one thing this is never dull nor stale, is Cedric’s voice.
In the past, Cedric Bixler-Zavala has been known for his layered vocal work. While sometimes it adds more character to the song, Cedric has found a breaking point of how much layering is too much. The doubling of the pitches and vocals (one at a lower octave and one at a high octave) during choruses becomes tiresome and irritating, but at the same time showcases Cedric’s range, which is quite high at times. In addition, Cedric continues with obscure lyrics. Here is an excerpt from “Meccamputechture,” ‘they needed those locks of dirty red hair/ a necklace of follicles with sabertooth monocles/ they want a bouquet of black rose gems/ castrating kisses stalactite stems/ they went and built a capsule in the cyanide pond/ where the holiest of water would have you to drown.” Uhhhh….what? Cedric probably was leaning towards the fact that a cave man was about to be baptized, but soon to be victim of murdered. Look for it in the next Nancy Drew mystery novel.
Guitarist and songwriter, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, showed a few aspects of his guitar arrangement during this album such as his knowledge of scales. During the marathon track “Tetragrammaton” he plays about thirty hundred scales. Ascending scales and descending scales infiltrate the verses creating a nauseating roller coaster effect. In addition, another concern is the controlling nature of the guitar work throughout the album. There are just portions where it is not necessary to have overbearing guitar work (See: end of “Asilos Magdalena” and the end of “El Ciervo Vulnerado”).
“Vicarious Atonement,” “Asilos Magdalena,” “El Ciervo Vulnerado” are perhaps the best and worst to come from this album. They are the best because it strays away from the norm encountered within the album. They are emotional breaks, one completely in Spanish, with a relaxing atmosphere. The three convey a similar mood created in the song “Televators” but with no percussion and not as catchy. As for the bad, they sound way too similar. In fact, if “Asilos Magdalena” did not contain lyrics spoken in Spanish, I would have had trouble deciphering all three with one another. They drag on and on for more than six minutes each. To make matter worse, the songs contain the out-of-place-but-somehow-making-sense guitar work on top of the soft-echoed mood, which ruins the effect.
Now while I have down talked most of this album there were also sections that were fantastic in their own regard. Between the fantastic bass solo incorporated into the introduction until the funky drum solo towards the end, “Day of Baphomets,” it caps off one of the truly spectacular moments of the album. Armed with a catchy chorus accompanied by a medley of sounds including an exasperated saxophone I was hooked. The bass thumps throughout with the usual guitar and high vocal work that transition seamlessly into the chorus. This song solely sums the Mars Volta and their progression in the past couple years. They have their roots of groovy bass lines, fast-paced drum work, and intricate guitar riffs with little vocal effects involved (as far as heavy manipulation goes).
In addition to “Day of Baphomets,” “Vermicide” stands out. The track is nothing fancy, but that is the essence of the “Vermicide.” The Mars Volta keep it modest by not overdoing any musical segment with an abundance of guitar work or vocal effects. It seems The Mars Volta has an album full of highlighting their pretentiousness. They kept a track aside that was subtle and almost cozy to listen to, and “Vermicide” was that track.
Through this marathon, I felt like one of the men on the album cover. I was simply dissatisfied and unhappy. Unfortunately, the cons outweigh the good to come from this album that had promise after Frances the Mute.
Amputecture was uninspiring, no doubt about it and they can only learn from their blunders.